An Evolving Energy and a Desperate Question

An Evolving Energy and a Desperate Question

by Obi Kaufmann


I am inviting an evolving energy, an emerging, anxiousness from the community when I present my work on tour. This new character of question, an expectant tone, skirts desperation and is often accompanied with a shaking tone of voice and pleading eyes. Where does humanity fit into my work, this future vision of California? What does reconciliation between industry and the natural world look like? With the legion of tragic, environmental conundrums that face our beleaguered spirit, how do we rediscover ecological equilibrium?

My standard answers are broken. I often stumble through piecemeal solutions about deficient policies or about new technologies that promise to fix our troubles. I am wrong in this approach on two fronts: 1) No one person has all the answers to the incredibly complex, positive feedback loops of degradative forces that currently threaten the workings of the biosphere. This work, my passion’s only contribution is the engaging and activation of a democratic literacy towards a better common understanding of geography and conservation, and 2) The dream of the world is unfolding exactly as it always have, and exactly as it should. We either work to balance our rights and our responsibilities with great love, compassion and vision, or we do not. Our best moments of problem solving will not come from fretful desperation, but by a contemplative course of action. Maybe it is like orienting on a map without a trail, only a heading.

I am an artist and my business is world-building. Every minute that you proceed through the California Field Atlas, I am asking you to accept this, my view of the natural world based on my inspiration, on my appreciation and on my experience as an explorer. My work is not a work of straight science. Of course, the maps I present in the California Field Atlas are data-driven but for the most part, quantifiable detection, measurement and consensus are three necessary concepts science requires that my work does not. My work depends on an emotional plea, and because of it, the community brings their passionate cry, their longing concern.

I believe that the great, sustaining systems of the natural world are not only alive, but intelligent. There is mind, systems of thinking, networks of advanced awareness infused everywhere in the natural world. Mind is not the abject province of humanity in its solitude, but rather a function of the breathing biosphere itself. When in wild places, open to wilder modes, thoughts sharpen as if the ideas there are not ours to claim spontaneously generated, but as if they exist independently of ourselves and enter us through our body. The synthesis (not the analysis) of this connected and holistic view on the ecological nature of mind speaks my truth to this, my life-long, ever-evolving epiphany.

At dawn, my eyes are some new variety of rose opening violet petals over heaven. I spend my waking, walking days tracking the oldest forests and let them track themselves through me. 200 million years before these mountains dreamed themselves to rise, this forest was already ancient. Carboniferous secrets, so often only considered bones and blood for human utility, spell an emerging and dangerous age of simplification for the citizen conifer. In the next one hundred millennia, new diversity will return to this mosaic habitat as the script of fire regime, atmospheric chemistry and hydrologic replenishment work to erase the scars of our petroleum print. I’ll leave my flowered-eyes on this mountain to watch that cycle happily reset.

The underlying plea I hear from this activated and concerned community I encounter up and down the state, seems to be those virtues that might illicit core-transformation in human, industrial thought. I would list them as grace, truth, insight, and wisdom – the great aspirations. The elixir that promises from this point onward our collective-life, our society will be defined by that which has come before and what now we are on the trail forward. When we have lost or have become lost to our former selves and merge with the greater forces of the world, we are found as an extension of those forces. Our left hand becomes our west hand and our right hand becomes our east hand.

My work has led me to the conclusion that our own species continued existence in what will certainly be a coming, post-carbon society (either imposed on us from without, or positively generated by us from within) will be made possible only by preserving as much biodiversity as we possibly can. Ecological simplification is a perilous trajectory, like a cloth that gets too worn and thin. The interlacing dynamics of the rapidly changing, delicate and yet resilient natural world are the course of my passion and present an ethical agenda in demonstrating how biodiversity works on connectivity, not isolation or sequestration. If we are not talking about the preservation, rehabilitation, stabilization, restoration, conservation, development and reconstruction of the world’s rich treasure of biodiversity and its habitats, we are not having a good conversation.

I am so humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to field these fears and to become, myself an audience to the transformative vision they represent. I think these are the very best questions that we could be asking: where is ecological peace in this overpopulated world? How do we serve the restoration of biodiversity? Can we change society? Simply by asking the question, the clay of collective-thought is working into new forms.

All there is, is process. Restoration is not a destination. Conservation is not a goal. The inspiration of our work is in recognizing the majesty of all species in all wild places as a spiral of biodiversity, free from commodification and free of disposability. We acknowledge all natural systems as alive and recognize them all to retain and hold their right to exist as a living system to protect and encourage. We support and draft policies that encourage resource replenishment over nonrenewable extraction, and we foster a singular, concurrent responsibility in tandem with every human-right we hold self-evident. We understand that there is a community-based functionality of a more-than-human society surrounding our progressive efforts and absolutely supports the culture of our species. We recognize this, our earthly progress, our continued terrestrial residency, as a temporal gift that graciously and necessarily demands reciprocation.

Fighting tragedy with love is the bravest effort we can give. The answer to the nihilistic question of whether or not we have a place, or worse, deserve to exist in this beautiful world, must be an axiomatic: we do. We are an invention of the earth. We are not separate from the earth. We are an aspect of nature. To survive the bottleneck of our own species’ adolescence, we must work on forging a new ecological paradigm. If we unable to will it, it will be imposed on us. I don’t have prophetic answers and I need to stop trying to give them. That work is not for me. My work is in the beautiful and nutritious mud, where water and sunlight give seed purchase. My work is about exposing the natural world for all the inspiration and meaning it holds and then cherishing those rare and precious moments when it can bring people together in the appreciation for how that world sustains us all.